Korrontzi takes the Musika Bulegoa’s Etxepare Basque Institute Award for raising the international profile of Basque music, culture and identity
Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.
´Korrontzi´ was the nickname of a trikitilari from Mungia who used to take his donkey every Sunday from the farmhouse to the village. He didn’t go to church, but instead waited outside until mass was over to play the trikitixa accordion and earn a few coins. Agus Barandiaran and Mikel Romero, founders of the band Korrontzi, liked his story and thought it was a good allegory for the life of a musician. They decided to borrow the name for the group that today consists of Barandiaran, Alberto Rodriguez, Kike Mora, Ander Hurtado de Saratxo and Cesar Ibarretxe.
Korrontzi has won the Etxepare Basque Institute’s Musika Bulegoa Award 2021 for raising the international profile of Basque music, culture and identity. It is an acknowledgement for becoming a household name in the world of folk music.
We spoke to Agus Barandiaran about his career as a trikitilari, what the pandemic has meant for the group and the relationship between modern and traditional music.
- This award is a gesture of recognition for exporting Basque language and culture beyond the Basque Country. How do you feel about winning the award?
- It is a huge honour. I feel that the work we’ve done is appreciated. Since 2004 we’ve been on several tours and given a number of concerts outside the Basque Country, and although it´s been wonderful, it can also be hard. That´s why we’re proud to receive this award. People value the work we’ve done and that’s very gratifying. It’s a great pleasure for us to be able to showcase Basque culture abroad, and to receive recognition for it is very rewarding.
- You’ve been introducing Basque culture abroad for years in places like Belgium, the United States, Romania, Cape Verde, Ireland, Brazil, Malaysia... Rock is rock everywhere, with unique nuances, of course, but folk changes radically from village to village. How is traditional Basque music recieved internationaly?
- The trikitixa [diatonic button accordion] is the backbone of our music, the main instrument, although we’ve also used the alboka, the txalaparta and other traditional instruments. When people hear the trikitixa they interpret our rhythms and melodies as dance music. When we’ve played in Brazil or Cape Verde, for example, people are out of their seat dancing by the second or third song. All the countries we’ve been to have that in common. We’ve always felt welcome, whether in Malaysia, the United States or in Reunion Island. A lot of what we do is based on explaining where we come from, and about our origins, culture, language, and experience as a people.
- You recorded your latest album, ´Koplariak´, during the quarantine, or at least that’s around the time you began. What have the quarantine and 2020 - 2021 been like from the perspective of a creator and composer?
- At first it was really hard, as it was for everyone. For the first few months there was a lot of uncertainty. We didn´t know what was going to happen. At first it seemed like it would be a matter of one or two months, and in our ignorance, we thought we’d still be able to do the summer concerts. We had several tours planned in the United States, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Spain and saw them all slowly fall apart. The first concert after that was in July in Valencia, in an atmosphere of total uncertainty. We didn´t know what kinds of permits we needed or how the performance was going to go.
When there were no concerts, we used the time to finish the album. Our first recordings were made during lockdown and we finished the work in the summer. Then, at the end of the year, we released the record in time for Durangoko Azoka [Durango Basque Book and Music Fair]. I think that culture has to move forward even when conditions are not the best.
- Over the years you’ve worked with different groups, creators and performers, how does this influence the personality and nature of Korrontzi?
- It has a tremendous influence. When we started playing in 2004, the Basque record companies didn´t want to take their chances with us, so we headed to Madrid. We contacted the Nubenegra label and they recorded our first album. Going to Madrid to launch the album meant that we didn’t feel recognised at home, but today I think it was the best thing for us. Nubenegra introduced us to another market, to another circuit. Most of the concerts were outside the Basque Country. We met people from other countries and made a lot of friends. We went on stage with them and learnt a great deal from each other.
In 2013 we launched an ambitious project called ´Tradition 2.1´. We invited musicians from all over the world to accompany our accordion and perform alongside the trikitixa. The album was a compilation of the work we’d done up to that point and shows the cultural links and relationships with the artists we had worked with.
- Today, pop, trap and rock are the dominant genres. But Korrontzi is still committed to traditional music, combining it with the new tools offered today. What made you decide to do this? How do you see the marriage between modern music and tradition?
- In the case of Korrontzi it happened naturally. Traditional music is something I learned from home. I first started learning trikitixa with an elderly man called Rufino Arrola, who was ´old school´. For example, he would teach people how to play the trikitixa in the local bar. I think the biggest lesson was to learn about his way of life was like. That’s where our love for folk music comes from. Given the state of the industry, maybe it´s not the best bet, but it´s the music we´ve always loved. When we play outside the Basque Country, the audience can tell and they appreciate it.
- They say that we don´t consume that kind of music these days. How do you see traditional Basque music in the future? Will it be pure folklore or will it continue to be music we enjoy in our daily lives?
-I think it´s good to incorporate different styles from outside the Basque Country, that´s always a positive thing. Tradition has nothing to do with betrayal. You can do new things, like bringing in a DJ or an instrument from elsewhere, like the banjo, for example. It´s not incompatible with a love for tradition. Trying new things doesn’t mean that I reject what I learnt from Rufino Arrola. I want to keep what’s been handed down to me, to somehow fill my rucksack with that tradition while at the same time showing the world something new.
I think that traditions that don’t adapt to the times are more likely to disappear. They also risk becoming folklore, a thing of the past, stored away in books. What is clear is that any habit was once a novelty, all customs began at some point. Society is what makes an instrument, a song or a style traditional. If a song written today is sung in a bar two hundred years from now, it will surely mean that this song has become part of the tradition. Heritage is a beautiful thing, something that should be understood, preserved and loved. But it’s also a living thing. We need to add new ideas to it and make our contribution in some way. If time goes by and new versions are born, it means that our heritage is still alive.